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Dangers of Asbestos

asbestos warning signThe British Government's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has promoted rigorous controls on asbestos handling, based on reports linking exposure to asbestos dust or fibres with thousands of annual deaths from mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer.

"At least 4000 people in Great Britain die each year from mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer as a result of past exposure to asbestos. Annual numbers of deaths are predicted to go on rising into the next decade.

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The TUC (UK) report cites a figure of 5000 deaths per year.

The HSE does not assume that any minimum threshold exists for exposure to asbestos below which a person is at zero risk of developing mesothelioma, since they consider that it cannot currently be quantified for practical purposes; they cite evidence from epidemiological studies of asbestos exposed groups to argue that even if any such threshold for mesothelioma does exist, it must be at a very low level.

Previously it was possible to claim compensation for pleural plaques caused by negligent exposure to asbestos, on the grounds that although it is in itself asymptomatic, it is linked to development of diffuse pleural thickening, which causes lung impairment. It has been highly contentious, however, as to the probability of pleural plaques developing into pleural thickening or other asbestos related illnesses. On October 17, 2007 this point was clarified by the Law Lords? ruling that workers who have pleural plaques as a result of asbestos exposure will no longer be able to seek compensation as it does not in itself constitute a disease.[30] This ruling was however superseded, so far as sufferers of pleural plaques in Scotland are concerned, by the passing of the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions)(Scotland) Act 2009, which provides that in Scots law pleural plaques are to be considered an actionable type of personal injury.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations were introduced in the UK in November 2006 and are an amalgamation of three previous sets of legislation (Asbestos Prohibition, Asbestos Licensing and the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations) aimed at minimising the use and disturbance of asbestos containing materials within British workplaces. Essentially this legislation bans the import and use of most asbestos products and sets out guidelines on how best to manage those currently in-situ.

Dutyholders of all non-domestic properties within the UK must establish an asbestos register and a management plan. The definition of "non-domestic" is "a property or structure (commercial, domestic or residential) where work is carried out" the obligation of the duty holder is that such operatives are not exposed to any asbestos based materials during the course of the work, the Asbestos Register states the presence or non presence of asbestos related to the inside and outside of the structure. The exception is where the property age (post-1999 when chrysotile asbestos was banned) would indicate that such products will not have been used during the construction of the building.

The removal of high-risk asbestos products from non-domestic properties is tightly controlled by the HSE and high-risk products such as thermal insulation must be removed under controlled conditions by licensed contractors. Further guidance on which products this applies to can be found on the HSE website along with a list of licensees.

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations were amended and came into force on 6 April 2012 to take account of the European Commission's view that the UK had not fully implemented the EU Directive on exposure to asbestos (Directive 2009/148/EC). These changes were relatively minor and included additional requirements for non-licensed asbestos work. These changes mean that some non-licenced asbestos work now requires notification, and has additional requirements for managing this work e.g. record keeping and health surveillance.

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